Listening Beyond Borders

As some of you may know, I am very fortunate to be a part of the Global Voices Summit in Budapest (for the "when the world listens" and Web 2.0 Goes Worldwide sessions).
It will be an opportunity to shine a bright light on the tremendous effort by citizen media participants in developing countries in time of need.
We will revisit some sad events (post-elections violence in Kenya, Cyclone Ivan and other issues), the importance of citizen media in that context and how to reach out to the rest of the world.
The last part is intriguing to me because we often outer phrases such as "Global Village", "think globally" or "The World is Flat" etc. but it is still a formidable challenge to faithfully render the hardships faced by many folks in times of crises and make the rest of the world relate to them, or better yet, internalize the injustice.

Many have discussed the concepts of Xenophilia and explained why some cultures may have more of an appeal (or "sticky factor" as M. Gladwell calls it ) than others.
I am way too new to all of this to bring valuable contribution to the table. However, as I was doing a bit of research for my slides for the session, I stumble upon this: the trend on when and how many people are searching for "Madagascar" on Google search engine:

Looking at the graphs, you will notice that there is an increase for a "Madagascar" search worldwide in mid-February right around the cyclone Ivan landfall.
A Google search is an assertive action that indicates a desire to know more than the sound bite heard on tv. This is strong evidence to me that solidarity across borders is not just a word.
The search for "Kerala" ( my roommate's home state) and "Madagascar" are almost equivalent worldwide (with Kerala slightly on top most of the time) except for February during the cyclone. As explained by Hash in his post on "pothole theory...", it is expected that we, as human beings, care more about events that are related and/or closer to us. I tend to agree that most of us are more or less guilty as charged.

Yet, looking at the Google trend search from Colombia, I see people who wanted to understand what happened and who kept looking for more even after the cyclone was gone. The trends seem to be similar for the US and Canada. The trends are a bit different (a brief, sharp increase) for the UK and France because they are more familiar with Madagascar (Large Malagasy diaspora or former visitors ) for historical reasons and they specifically searched for information pertaining to the cyclone.

The Bottom line is, more people actively looked for more information about Madagascar during the cyclone and that is a good thing, as corny as that may sound.

I understand that Google trends alone are not going to be enough data to draw any meaningful conclusions and I also apologize for the heavily "Madagascar-centered" tone of this post. More tools and more countries need to be assessed before drawing any conclusions.

However, the point I am trying to make (from my untrained point of view) is that we may think that most people are desensitized by information overload (or indifferent to far remote regions) but we may begin to see a change here:
that is not geographically or culturally dependent. And if I were to push the envelope, we may see that what may have started as an interest for a region out of compassion may very well continue as an interest for that region out of pure fondness.


  1. Hi Lova :)

    IMHO...The last 6-7 years have been eye opening to the whole world in terms of what's happening everywhere. The majority are still wearing horse blinders....but I'm sure they'll turn over to the bright side eventually.

    All the worldly calamities have shocked people into not being apathetic to the sufferings of others even if they are across the world. I think people are slowly crossing over to being Citizens of the World.

    Maybe I'm over optimistic... :)
    Sounds of the world sounds like a great theme...

    Nice post...been a while since I did this. I've lurked on your blog many a time in the last 6 months but have not had a chance to comment. Apologies!

  2. hey Amrita,

    Love the spirit Amrita :) good to see you in this corner of the woods.
    Optimism is the only way, I'd say. :)